Empty Bargains [Jason McCann]

"I have nothing else to offer you," Markus barked through gritted teeth, his fists clenched hard at his sides. Jason shook his head, chuckling. "I only want one thing, and it's in this room," he sneered. My brother took a step closer to me, trying to push me toward the door. Jason's eyes flashed over and caught mine, a glint in his eye while a shiver went down my spine. "What do you want?" Markus asked, impatient. Jason's head nodded in my direction. I froze and the room fell deafeningly silent. "I want her."

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28. ~11.29~

    My jaw dropped and my legs felt like rubber.  Sam?  In the hospital?  Who would want to hurt him?  The only enemies we had in Poway were Jason and his group, but we weren’t anywhere near him right now.

    My hands began to shake and I pressed them to my face, trying to hold in the part of me that wanted to collapse.  The ICU?  No one I’d ever known had ended up in a critical condition without the situation ending in death.  What had happened?  Had he been shot?  Stabbed?  There were so many questions flying through my head, making me feel dizzy.

    “W-What happened?” I stammered, my voice wavering.  Arms too heavy to hold up anymore, I let them drop to my sides and waited for Leo to answer me.

    “I don’t have time to explain right now,” Leo said hurriedly.  “The only way you’re going to get all the answers you want is to be there with him.”

    “How the hell am I supposed to do that?” I squeaked.  There was no way I could leave this house, no way I could get down there as fast as I needed to.

    He dug in his pocket and stepped up to me.  “Take these.”  In his outstretched hand was a set of keys.  “My car will get you there faster than a bus will.”

    I stared at them for a few seconds, still reeling from the news of my brother, before Leo huffed and pushed them into my fingers.  “But what about…  I don’t–“

    “You know how to drive, right?” he asked hurriedly.

    “Yeah, I mean…  Yeah, but–“

    “Then pack a duffel and go.  You probably don’t have that much time before Jason gets back, and if Xander sees you leaving he’ll call Jason without hesitating — if he doesn’t shoot you first.”

    He reached to his backside and pulled something from his waistband and from his other pocket.  I gaped as he held out my gun and phone in his hand.  “How did you–“

    “It doesn’t matter,” Leo rushed, against pushing my possessions into my hands.  “Go pack clothes, or I’ll do it for you.   I already put my number in your phone in case you need me.”

    I stared at him blankly for a long second, heart pounding, before finally kicking into gear.  My feet carried me as fast as they could up the stairs and into Jason’s room, throwing what was in my hands on the bed before shoving the first things I saw into my duffel.  As fast as I was going, I felt like I was moving in slow motion as I zipped my bag and picked up my gun, phone, and Leo’s keys again.  He was still waiting for me in the main room, typing frantically on his phone.

    “Aren’t you coming?” I breathed as I stepped up to the door leading to the garage.  “Jason will freak out when he finds out I’m gone, and since you’re the only one here he’ll automatically come after you.”

    Leo smiled wryly.  “As much as I want to, I still owe Jason.  I’ve just got to go meet this guy so they’ll at least be on good terms with Uriah, but I promise I’ll be right behind you.”

    I tried not to think about what Jason might do to Leo if he caught him.  “How will you get there?”

    “I’m taking Xander’s car,” he answered.  “I told him mine’s having trouble, so he’ll think it’s in the shop when he comes back and it’s gone.”  Leo’s phone chimed and he looked down at it, then back up to me.  “You have to go now, Phoebe.  I promise, I’ll be there soon after you.”

    I bit my lip, then bounced on the balls of my feet before stepping over to pull him into a hug.  He seemed surprised at first but wrapped his arms around my shoulders.

    “I’m still pissed you didn’t tell me about Pete,” I mumbled.  I sucked in a shaky breath.  “But thank you for telling me about Sam, and thank you for letting me go.”

    He let out a long breath.  “Go, and I’ll make it up to you later.”

    I pulled back and nodded, casting him one last glance before pushing into the garage, starting Leo’s car, and doing my best to not let the steering wheel shake as much as my hands.

••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••

    My breathing still hadn’t evened out by the time I hit Poway, eyes no doubt bloodshot from the seven-hour night drive.  Hands gripping the steering wheel too tight, my heart pounded as I pulled into the familiar parking lot of the hospital we’d always ended up at for any kind of dumb injury you could think of.

    I remembered the first time I was here was when I was eleven, to get stitches in my hand.  Sam and I had been screwing around with a knife and I’d grabbed it where I shouldn’t have.  Both of us freaking out, my brother illegally drove us here and ended up getting yelled at by our uncle, our only responsible legal guardian still alive at the time.  Sam and I had been here together on countless occasions, but I couldn’t remember a time I’d ever been scared — worried, yes, but never fearing for Sam’s life.

    I parked as far back in the lot as I could, hoping to avoid anyone recognizing Leo’s car.  It was a dumb thing to do, but people around here knew Jason’s group and they knew how and in what they got around.  I didn’t want to risk damage to Leo’s vehicle after everything he’d done for me.

    I checked the clock on the dash.  It was six in the morning, about the time when the hospital started accepting visitors.  Still trembling, I left my duffel and gun on the seat, then stuffed my phone and keys into the back pocket of my jeans.  After slamming the car door and locking it, I walked as fast as I could without running into the hospital.

    My feet carried me to the front desk and I leaned on the counter.  I could hardly feel what I was saying and doing, the only thing on my mind getting to Sam.  A sheet in front of me on the counter was a visitor sign-in.  I grabbed it immediately and began filling it out.

    “Name of the patient you’re here to see?” a middle-aged woman asked politely.

    “Samuel Lastings,” I said hurriedly.

    She nodded and typed in a few things on her computer before her expression turned solemn and she addressed me again.  “Mr. Lastings is in the Intensive Care Unit and not taking any visitors right now.”

    My jaw went slack.  “What?”

    “I’m sorry, you’ll have to come back at a later time.”

    I had to see Sam.  If I couldn’t, I didn’t know what I would do.  My body felt like it was being compressed by an unseen force, weighing down on me so I couldn’t breathe.  Sam could be dying, and I was stuck down here.  The thought dug at my throat and I let out an almost inaudible noise as tears sprung to my eyes.  I showed her the sheet I’d just filled out, trying to blink away the first moisture my eyes had let form in years.  “I’m Phoebe Lastings — his sister.”

    The woman had to take the paper from my shaking hands to read it, then sighed.  She placed it back on the counter and proceeded to fill out something I couldn’t see.  After a few seconds, the woman slid a visitor badge with my name on it across the counter.  She then told me his room number and gave me a sympathetic look.

    “Thank you,” I breathed, then grabbed the badge and rushed to the elevators.  I swatted at my eyes, willing myself not to cry.  I couldn’t remember the last time I had, and wouldn’t let myself now.  Neither Sam nor I had time to waste on tears.  I had to focus on seeing him.

    The elevator couldn’t have gone fast enough for me.  I danced from foot to foot, trying unsuccessfully to calm myself.  No matter how much I’d consciously gone against my brother in the past three months, I still loved him and was afraid of losing him more than anything.  He was the only person who really knew me, though I doubted he could say that if he’d known what I’d done.

    As soon as the elevator’s doors inched open, I took in a shaky breath and stepped through.  A sign on the wall pointed me to the left and I hastily turned and jogged down the hallway.  The only noise, spare for my shoes echoing against the pale walls, was that of heart monitors and various other life-saving machines.  It was ominous, walking past rooms where people were fighting for their lives.  My eyes searched for Sam’s room number, but it wasn’t in the corridor I was moving along.  I knew I’d have to turn the corner, passing a mostly empty waiting room at the end.  It was occupied by one person – Peter.

    “Pete,” I inaudibly breathed, a sick feeling forming in my stomach.  I hadn’t seen him in almost three months.  It almost felt wrong to see his tousled hair and tall stature, wearing his usual jeans and hoodie.  My first instinct was to feel guilty at the sight of anyone in my group, but he hardly gave me any time.

    “Phoebe,” he said, looking up at the sound of my heavy footsteps.

    He stood abruptly and met me at the beginning of the waiting room, enveloping me in a hug before I could say anything more.  My arms wrapped around his torso and squeezed tightly.  There was no doubt he could feel my heart pounding, both from nerves and from my anxiety for Sam.  He only held me tighter when I began to let me arms fall.  I was grateful then for his kind nature, always seeming like as much of a brother as Sam.

    “Leo told me you were on your way,” he mumbled, finally letting me go.

    “What the hell was that about anyway?” I suddenly snapped.  The combination of lack of sleep and stress had me swinging back and forth between emotions, and the reminder of Leo and Pete not telling anyone about their communications brought up the anger I’d first felt.

    He pursed his lips.  “He said he told you about it.”

    “Not enough,” I huffed, rubbing my face.  “I want to hear it from you, because his explanation was shit.”

    Pete let out a hushed sigh.  “You know if I told them about it, Sam and Tyler wouldn’t have stopped until they’d broken down the door and tried to pull you out.”

    “Why didn’t you let them?”

    “You should understand better than anyone that they’d be dead before they even got inside the door, don’t you?”  He set his hands on my shoulders.  “Jason’s strong, and people driven by emotions are rash and idiotic.”

    I chewed the inside of my cheek, knowing he was right but not wanting to accept it.  “Why didn’t any of you come after me in the first place?”  My voice cracked as the last words left my mouth.  “I thought none of you even wanted me back.  You didn’t text me, either.”

    Peter’s forehead pulled together.  “Things got complicated after they took you.  When Tyler got your message, you said yourself that Jason was taking your phone back.  It was pointless to message back when we knew Jason was only going to read it.  On top of that, his warehouse may have been easy to get into, but his house is totally different with the alarm system and everyone inside.”

    “But Leo was giving you information,” I pressed, crossing my arms over my chest.  “You probably knew more about that house than me, and I was inside it.”

    “It’s not that simple,” he sighed.  “After what happened with Emmett and you, alliances shifted and we became a target.  People saw us as vulnerable and were taking shots at us.  We barely even had time to take a breath.”  He swallowed hard.  “Chloe and I broke up.”

    My jaw dropped, disregarding everything he’d just said.  “What?”

    Peter shook his head.  “Things got dangerous.  I told her I wanted her and Bella to move upstate and live with her aunt, as psychotic as she is.  Chloe didn’t understand, and a shouting match was all it took to for her to walk out the door and take Bella with her.”  He bit his lip and looked away.

    “Oh my God,” I whispered, taking his hands from my shoulders and pulling him into another hug.  “I’m so sorry.”

    He sucked in a deep breath.  “It doesn’t matter right now.  You probably want to see your brother.”

    A pang of anxiety swept through me as I stepped back.  “Yeah.”

    He nodded and began walking down the hallway I’d meant to turn into.  I counted a few doors before Pete reached for the right handle, tugging it open and holding it for me.  My stomach told me I didn’t want to move, but my feet lead me inside anyway.  A heart monitor was beeping slowly, at least a second between each ping.  I heard it before I saw the bed, surrounded by thin curtains.  The room was empty and unattended, spare for the machines keeping him alive like they were programmed to do.

    I was thankful for Peter’s hand on my back, encouraging me forward when I knew I wanted to see Sam but couldn’t find a way to move.  I wanted to know for sure that this was him, attached to everything in this room that smelled like antiseptic.  My teeth bit down hard on my tongue and I winced at the feeling.  Just a few more steps and I would be able to see him.

    When I was finally able to see around the curtain, I was caught between a feeling of numbness and painful fear.  Suddenly unable to stand, I fell back against a prepared Peter, who held me up as I took in the sight of Sam.  Among the tubes running from his mouth, I saw deep bruises covering his chin and reaching all the way up to his eye sockets.  His eyelids were closed, but I knew he wouldn’t be able to open them if he wanted to.  Sutures along his left cheekbone sent a chill through me.  I was about to look away before I saw the bulk of a bandage underneath his hospital gown, from his hips to his chest.  My bottom lip trembled and I turned to bury my face in Peter’s chest.

    “What happened?” I choked out.

    “Do you want to go outside before I tell you?”

    I squeezed my eyes shut, willing this whole situation to just disappear.  Sam shouldn’t be in the hospital right now, I shouldn’t be down in Poway again — hell, I shouldn’t even have left.  I gave up on my group without thinking that they could be going through hell too.  After a long, shaky breath, I nodded.

    Peter helped me out the door and back to the waiting room, leaving most of the potent hurt of seeing Sam behind in his room.  We sat down in chairs near the far corner of the room, my head in my hands as tears reappeared in my eyes.

    “Are you ready to hear what I have to say?” Peter asked gently.

    I clenched my jaw and nodded slightly.  I needed to know what happened to Sam, who did this to my brother.  Whoever it had been, I’d tear them apart.

    “Thursday night,” he started.  “Probably even as late as Friday morning, he went out to fill up his car.  I don’t know why he was going that late, especially with everything that’s been happening lately, but he did.  It was our usual gas station, and he was going to take out the hose when they jumped him.  The clerk inside called the cops, but they didn’t get there fast enough to stop them from putting two bullets in him.  The police report says it was two guys who got away before they could track them down, but that doesn’t change the fact that he could’ve died if we hadn’t gotten him here when we did.  The doctors say he has a good chance of pulling through, but that doesn’t say anything about his recovery time and what his limits are going to be.  The bullets managed to miss anything with crazy importance, but they did mess up one of his kidneys.”

    I sucked in a sharp breath, but kept in mind that Sam would heal.  He always had a way of bouncing back, and I wasn’t going to convince myself that this time was different.  He was my brother, and he had to pull through for me.

    “Last time the doctor came out to talk to me, they said he was nearly stable.  They’ll probably pull him out of Intensive Care later today.”  Peter’s words made me feel a little better even though my brother didn’t look even remotely ready to come out of the ICU.

    “Where is everyone?” I asked, my brain suddenly registering that Pete was the only one with Sam.  I knew it was early in the morning, but the group I left stuck together.

    “When Leo told me you were coming I told them to go home,” he answered.  “Markus had to go talk to a guy who we’ve been working with for two months anyway.  They don’t know you’re here, and I figured you wouldn’t want them to until you’ve calmed down.”

    I was confused as to why he wouldn’t think I would want to see anyone.  Of course, I felt too ashamed to even think about looking Tyler in the eye, loving the man who made life a living hell for all of us — especially Markus — and shot Emmett.    Pete was right, I didn’t want to see them right away.  But he wouldn’t know I couldn’t face him; he could only know that if–

    “Leo told you, then,” I mumbled, my throat suddenly dry.  “About Jason and me.”

    He let a breath leave his lungs in a rush and he stared at his shoes.  I couldn’t see his face, but I knew Pete’s expression held disappointment.  Just his reaction told me he knew, and to finally say what I’ve been dreading telling the people Jason had hurt made my insides churn.  It felt just as bad as I’d imagined.

    “Yeah, he told me,” Pete answered.  “I think all of us are lucky Tyler doesn’t know.”

    I squeezed my eyes shut and cursed, pulling my knees to my chest and hugging myself.  No one knew that Jason and I had shared “I love you”s.  I’d hoped no one would know, but I hadn’t thought so far ahead as to what I would do when I wanted to go back to Jason.  They wouldn’t let me out of my sight, not after I’d been gone for almost three months.  Tyler wouldn’t give up the search if I disappeared in the middle of the night.  Tyler…  I didn’t know what I would do.

    “What are you going to do about Tyler?” he asked as if on cue.  “What will Jason do when he finds out you’re gone?”

    I shook my head, hiding my face from him.  There was no doubt in my mind Jason had figured out I’d left, but I had no idea what he would do.  “I don’t want to think about it right now.  Is Leo almost here?”

    The was a long silence before he said anything.  “He hasn’t messaged me back since just after you left, but he should be on the way.  I’m sure you’ve had a long night, Phoebe.  You should sleep.”  I felt his hand on my knee.  “Do you want to go back to the house?”

    My whole body tensed.  “No.  Can we just stay here?”

    I looked up, catching his eyes with mine.  He smiled sadly then wrapped his arm around me, an invitation to rest on his shoulder.  Grateful again for his kindness, I closed my eyes and tried to take my mind off of everything.

••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••

    “Phoebe,” I heard Peter’s voice waking me from sleep.

    I lifted my head from his shoulder and tried to blink the haze from my eyes.  Light was filtering in from the windows and casting a warm glow over the room.  My lungs took in a deep breath and I stretched, looking toward Peter.  My forehead pulled together at his nervous expression as he stared at his phone.

    “If you’re not ready to face anyone yet, I suggest you go somewhere you won’t be seen,” he said hurriedly, looking up at me.  “I just got Markus’s text.  Tyler’s heading into the hospital now, and Markus isn’t far behind him.”

    My chest constricted and I stood abruptly.  “Where?” I almost shouted.  I wasn’t ready, and probably never would be.  Tyler wasn’t someone I could face, especially not so soon after seeing my brother.  I needed somewhere to hide.

    Peter looked at me incredulously.  “I don’t know, just go somewhere you can’t–“

    He was interrupted by the sound of car keys clattering to the floor and echoing against blank walls.  My head whipped in the direction of the noise and I almost let out a whimper as my gut twisted inside me.  Legs feeling like rubber, I had no choice but to stand and take in Tyler’s wide-eyed expression from down the hall.

    We did nothing but stare at each other for a long moment.  All the while I could feel myself trying to tear my insides apart, punishing me for how much I’d betrayed Tyler.  I’d let myself love Jason despite everything Tyler and I had been through — all the years I loved him, or at least I thought I had.  Maybe my love for Jason had just been different; but it didn’t matter now as I let my eyes fall to the floor.

    “Phoebe,” Tyler said, hope pouring from the one word.

    Suddenly he could move again, jogging down the hall to stand in front of me.  My feet were glued to the spot, as was my gaze.  I couldn’t bring myself to look at his face.  I jumped as his arms wrapped around me, hugging me to his chest in the embrace that used to fill me with happiness — now I only felt guilt and hurt.  My arms stayed limp at my sides, my entire body being consumed by numbness.  I was beginning to shut down from everything I was being put through.

    “Oh my God,” Tyler breathed into my hair.  If he noticed I wasn’t reciprocating his embrace, he didn’t show it.  “I have no words to tell you how much I missed you.  Jesus, how did you get out?  You disappeared!  Where the hell have you been?”

    My jaw went slack and I turned my head to look at Peter.  He was standing beside us, a look of uneasiness pasted to his expression.  I begged him with my eyes to say something so I didn’t have to.  I didn’t trust my voice, let alone the words that would come out of my mouth.

    “Jason relocated,” Peter said for me, and I was grateful he’d gotten my hint.  Tyler loosened his grip and I stood back, crossing my arms.  I looked away so I didn’t have to see his face.  “She drove all night to get here in one of his guys’ car.”

    “How did you slip out, though?” Tyler pressed.  He was still trying to address me, but I couldn’t speak.  I had to bite my lip to stop it from trembling.

    “They left an opening,” Peter insisted.  “Misplaced keys and a good guess at the security code, and a few hours later here she is.”

    “Phoebe can talk for herself,” Tyler told him as he stepped in front of me.  He took my face in his hands and tipped up my chin.  “Phoebe, please say something.  Did he hurt you?”

    “No,” was all I could manage.  Jason wouldn’t hurt me.  That was the only thing I knew for sure right then, the only confident answer I could give.  Everything else was a wild card.

    He let out a sigh of relief, studying me.  I closed my eyes, unable to stare into his hazel ones.  This was torture, but he didn’t know it.  My stomach continued to twist into knots, rolling over itself and making me feel sick.

    “Thank God,” he said quietly, placing a kiss to the corner of my mouth.  “I couldn’t bear it if he did.  I love you so much.”

    My hands shook as I tried to smile at him.  I had a feeling it came out looking like I was in agony, putting on a face to show I was okay when really I was missing half of my body.  I felt incomplete, hollow and numb.  It showed on his face that Tyler noticed, but he didn’t say anything.  He probably thought I was just scarred from being at Jason’s for so long.

    “Mr. Friedriks?” a high voice called from the place where the waiting room met the hallway.  “Can I have a word with you?”

    It was a nurse, dressed in a smock with a clipboard in her hands.  She was looking at Pete expectantly, who sighed and gave Tyler and I one last glance before walking over to her.  I squeezed my eyes shut and breathed deeply, trying to stay calm.  I couldn’t be in the hospital, couldn’t bear it, but somehow I had to for Sam.  When I opened my eyes, I saw Tyler move to pull me into another hug.  Immediately I walked back to the chair I’d been sitting in, pretending I hadn’t noticed.  He cast me a wary look before taking up the seat beside me.

    “How are you?” he asked carefully.

    “Fine,” I said, trying to use as few words as I could.

    “I haven’t seen you in almost three months, but I still know you well enough to pick out when you’re lying.”  He meant for it to sound lighthearted, but nothing was easy going at that point.

    “I haven’t seen anyone in three months, Tyler,” I bit back.  “I’ve been indoors the entire time I’ve been gone, thinking that the people I loved didn’t give enough of a damn to get me out.  I drove seven hours last night, trying to hold myself together after being told by someone I’m supposed to hate that my brother is in the hospital after almost being killed.  So please, forgive me if I’m a little short with you.”

    I didn’t have the will to look at his face.  My anger wasn’t necessarily justified, but I didn’t know where else to go with it.  Pushing Tyler away seemed like the best option, since I didn’t want to hurt him or myself by trying to pretend nothing had changed.

    “You know that’s not true,” Tyler said, almost a whisper.

    “Do I?” I countered just as quietly.  I knew he was mentioning my lack of faith in them, but in those first few weeks until I opened myself to Jason I’d felt so lonely.  Anything my mind threw at me seemed right, since I had no one else to confide in.  I could’ve gone insane.

    “I’d like to think you know I love you more than to let you suffer with Jason for no reason.”

    His voice was so gentle, his touch on my face even more so.  I began to lean into his hand but suddenly corrected myself, looking away.  I couldn’t do this to him, couldn’t pretend I loved him.  All I felt was guilt now, not anything remotely love — he’d always be close, but never the way I was with Jason.

    “How did you get out, anyway?” he continued.

    “Peter already explained it.”

    “Then why didn’t you leave sooner?” he pressed.  “I mean, it was easy enough this time–“

    “It’s not that simple,” I said flatly, meaning to end our conversation.

    I had a feeling Tyler was going to say something more, but Peter came back into the waiting room.  He was smiling slightly, relief all over his face.

    “They’re discharging Sam from the ICU,” he said.  “The nurse said he’ll be moved to another floor and will be under increased observation.  If anything goes wrong — which is highly unlikely — they’ll have him back in Intensive care; but for the time being, he’s stable.”

    Some of the tension building in my chest released.  Stable was good, so much better than what I’d been expecting.  My brother was healing.

    “Thank God,” I sighed shakily, burying my face in my hands.

    “That’s great news,” Tyler agreed.

    “What is?”

    I tensed again as I heard Markus’s voice.  Looking up slowly, I braced myself for the inevitable surprised expression sure to glance his features.  I was right, wincing as he caught sight of me and his jaw went slack.

    “Phoebe?”

    Peter cut in and explained what the nurse had said about Sam, diverting the attention from me momentarily.  I took the extra time to stand, walking to find a place beside Peter.  Markus kept his eyes trained on my form, but listened intently with a final nod as Peter finished speaking.

    “How did you get out?” Markus said, not acknowledging my brother’s condition any further.

    When I hesitated, Peter stepped in and explained it how he had to Tyler.  Thankful for how much he was handling the situation, I rubbed my face again and sighed.  Markus asked a few more prodding questions that Peter continued to answer, and it wasn’t until I’d looked around and remembered Emmett hadn’t come that I spoke.

    “Is Emmett seriously screwing around at a time like this?” I said shortly, crossing my arms over my chest.  “Shouldn’t he be here, seeing what he can do to help instead of wandering off?”

    I felt all three of them tense and a look was passed around, long and drawn out before landing on me.  I furrowed my brow and gave Peter a questioning look.  He avoided my gaze, nodding at Markus briefly before he cleared his throat.

    “Emmett’s dead.”

    My heart clenched and my arms fell limp to my sides.  Suddenly I felt like puking.  They couldn’t be serious?

    Markus took my silence as a chance to say more.  “He died of ricin poisoning.  The bullet Jason shot him with was laced with it.”

    My jaw dropped, heart thundering in my chest.  No, this couldn’t be right.  My hand lifted to cover my mouth as I stepped back.  A poisoned bullet?

    “That son of a bitch,” Tyler mumbled behind me.

    “W-What?” I stammered.

    “Jason knew Emmett was going to die whether we got him to the hospital or not.”  Peter’s expression was tense, fighting signs of angry.  “They couldn’t figure out the source of his illness until it was too late.”

    No.  Emmett couldn’t be dead.  Was that why Leo didn’t know where he was all the times I’d asked?  Because he was buried ten feet deep?  Maybe Leo had known, but didn’t want to tell me.  He probably didn’t want me to feel the way I did, like my entire chest was being crushed slowly and painfully.

    I shut my eyes tightly and shook my head.  The Jason I knew wouldn’t do something like that.  Jason would’ve provided the option for Emmett to live.  I tried to convince myself that he hadn’t known about the poison, but it was foolish.  He had to have known.  Jason was a murderer.  

    Did the part of him everyone else saw run too deep?  The answer was yes, and trying to convince myself otherwise was wrong.  I didn’t know what was more painful; Jason’s hand in Emmett’s death, or the fact that the Jason I loved might not’ve been able to make up for this.

    “I–I need to leave,” I mumbled, pushing past all of them and jogging down the hall.  My pulse was roaring in my ears.  I needed to get out, needed to cool down and think everything through.

    The hallway in front of me seemed endless, all of the rooms Emmett may have been in hanging a heavier feeling over my head.  He was gone, just like my brother almost had been.  I’d never fully understood how dangerous our world was until then.  Breathing was becoming harder, each inhale forced and unnatural.  Walls seemed to be closing in on me, suffocating just like everything I’d been hit with today in a short amount of time.

    I put my head down and meant to turn into the open elevator doors, but I ran straight into someone.  Dazed, I took a step back and let my hazy focus settle on the person — the man I’d crossed paths with.

    It was Jason.

    My mouth hung wide open and I stumbled back, leaning against the wall for support.  He looked stoic, but I knew better by the slight twitching of the skin underneath his eyes.  Jason was angry, but I was only wary and shocked.  How could he have known where to find me so quickly?  Why was my world flipping upside down in a matter of hours?

    “Phoebe,” he said blandly.

    “J-Jason,” I stuttered.  “W-What are you–“

    “Doing here?” he finished sharply.  “I could ask you the same damn thing.”

    I saw the rage in his eyes and could only picture the moment he’d shot Emmett, leaving him bloody and lying on the floor while he looked on with a slight smirk to his lips.  It was sickening, and I felt bile rising in my throat.  Everything hitting me from every different direction was getting to be too much.

    “What the hell, Phoebe?” he stepped forward.  “You left and said nothing to me!”

    “My brother was dying,” I choked out.  “I had to come here and–“

    “You should’ve called me, and we could’ve gone together!”

    I gaped at him.  “You took away my phone remember?  And do you honestly think they would let you anywhere near Sam after you fucking killed Emmett?”

    My words rang throughout the hall.  Jason’s expression turned dark, staring at me through heavy eyes.  If it were even possible, my heart pounded harder.  This side was the Jason I loved, wasn’t the Jason he’d shown me.

    “What did you say?”

    A shaky breath escaped me.  “I know about the poisoned bullet, Jason.”

    “Can we just go, and we can talk about this when you’re not–“

    “It was never a choice, was it?” I suddenly asked, a flame of rage starting in my chest.  “Whether I went and saved Emmett or stayed and let him bleed out?  Emmett never had a choice.  never had a fucking choice.  You knew he was going to die, and you let believe that leaving with you was going to save him!”

    “Phoebe, let’s go before this gets out of control,” Jason sighed.

    “Oh, it’s already out of control!” I shouted back, my fists clenching.  “You killed him!  Don’t even try to tell me you didn’t know; bullets don’t just come tainted with shit!  I’ve never really had a choice in anything!  How dare you sit there and tell me you love me after everything you did behind my back!  Why did you even come here?”  I threw my hands up.  “Was it because you knew they’d tell me all the shit you’ve done?  Did you think you could get here soon enough to stop it?  Dammit, Jason, I can’t even look at you anymore!”

    His face wiped of all emotion, staring beyond my angry form.

    “Phoebe?”

    My stomach dropped as I recognized Tyler’s voice, closer than I would’ve liked.  I winced and turned, meeting his gaze and watching his eyes flick in Jason’s direction.  Immediately Tyler registered his presence and anger replaced and lightheartedness he had toward me.

    “You!”

    I watched in horror as Tyler tore down the hall, running at top speed with eyes blazing.  Knowing Jason was his target, something crazy within me gathered the strength to push myself in the middle of the corridor.  My feet planted between the two, serving as a block for Tyler.  I didn’t want either of them hurt, didn’t want this problem in the first place.  I was so, so stupid for thinking Jason was different.  I’d made a horrible mistake.

    “Get out of the way,” Tyler growled, slowing when he came within ten feet of me.

    “No,” I said firmly, though the rest of me was shaking.

    “Are you seriously defending the scum that’s kept you away from us for three months?”

    “Watch your mouth, Mendall,” Jason snapped from behind me.

    “Watch your back, McCann!  You’re lucky I can’t rip your throat out here, but as soon as we get out of this place–“

    “Both of you just shut the hell up!” I nearly screamed, turning sideways to I could give a burning look to both of them.

    Despite the pounding pain in my chest, I reached up to rub my temples in Jason and Tyler’s silence.  I could feel their shocked expressions on either side of me, trying to figure out what I was doing.  In all honesty, I had no clue myself.

    I let out another breath.  “When is Leo getting here?” I asked Jason.  As soon as he got here, we could get this whole thing sorted out with Peter and I could worry about only my brother.  There was so much I would have trouble ignoring, but if Leo could convince Jason to leave, a large part of the conflict would disappear.

    My eyes caught Jason’s, cold and hard as he said his next words.

    “Uriah turned on me.  His guys threw Leo on our lawn in a body bag.  He’s dead, Phoebe.”

    I let out a small whimper, falling back against the wall as I was hit with another deep blow.  I felt like I was imploding, silence and blood roaring in my ears as my hands found the sides of my face.  No, no, no.  This couldn’t be happening, not again.  Not again.

    Tyler reached out as he saw me stumble, taking a few steps toward me as my entirety screamed inwardly.

    “Don’t fucking touch me,” I hissed, ice in my tone.

    Tyler recoiled, but Jason only looked on as I comprehended what he’d just said.  Jason knew I would want space, knew me well enough to tell when I’d had enough.  But then again, so did Tyler; at least, I thought he did.  Everything he’d said to me so far had shown that I’d changed, leaving Tyler behind with my old self.

    Leo’s face flew through my mind, promising me with his last words that he’d see me soon after I arrived in Poway again.  I should’ve known something was wrong.  I had known going alone to meet Uriah’s guy was dangerous.  Thousands of scenarios ran through my head, ones where I could’ve stopped him from going.  In a way, it was my fault for not forcing Leo to come with me.

    News of Leo’s death, life taken in cold blood, was enough to shut me down.  I became a blank canvas, one that was unusable and unfit to even look at.  All I felt was numb.  Right then, I knew I needed to leave.  I needed to leave and not come back until I could sort everything out for myself.  Granted, I had no idea when that would be, but I didn’t care.

    Without saying another word I stood up straight and began striding to the elevator.  I’d leave Tyler and Jason alone, leave them as Markus’s responsibility.  I sure as hell didn’t want to deal with them; I never would want to.  My teeth ground and I flinched at the feeling of Jason’s hand on my wrist.  Eyes landing on him, I shook from his grasp and spun to face him head-on.

    It was hidden well, but I was finally able to see inside his words — he was flailing, searching desperately for a way to keep me there.  In another world I would’ve granted his plea, but we lived in a world where second chances were dangerous.    

    “I have one question left,” Jason said quietly.  “One question I haven’t used.”

    I was hit with the memory of one of the first few days I’d woken up after a night filled with nothing but Jason.  I’d asked him to play a stupid question game, walking away from the one I’d let him ask.  We’d both said we were saving our last one for later, but I’d hardly expected then to be the time.  The flashback sent a stab of hurt through my stomach.

    Jason took in a breath, almost as shaky as my own.  “Do you…  Do you love me, like you said you did?”

    It was like I’d been blind-sided by a train.  Tyler let out a string of curses behind us, questioning what had just come from Jason’s mouth.  His profanities blurred and my gaze focused on solely Jason, everything else a haze.

    My bottom lip quivered.  “Do you?”

    I realized I’d just used my last question in the same way he had.  Ashamed I was even thinking that way after everything that’d happened so quickly, I looked away.  I didn’t want an answer for the one thing I’d asked.  From everything Jason had done up to this point, I knew the answer, for him, was yes.  But the answer I gave him couldn’t be.  Not then, probably not even in a world where everything was perfect.  I knew I loved him, deep under the pain of Emmett’s murder and Leo’s death.  It was insane, shouldn’t have been looked past by me.  I couldn’t love Jason.

    My eyes fell to my feet.  I didn’t give Jason the chance to answer before speaking again.

    “Even if I did, I can’t.”

    All I could hear was deafening silence, and maybe somewhere far off I could pick out Tyler shouting at both Jason and I.  All I could taste was the bitterness my words had left behind.  All I could feel was the knife driving deeper into me, a wedge pushing between Jason and I.  All I could see was his wounded expression slowly transform into a stony coldness.

    I had to get out, or I would suffocate.

    Not another word was said as I stumbled to the elevator, wracked by the hurt I’d just been bombarded with.  Sam, Tyler, Emmett, Leo, Jason; their faces all fought for my attention when I managed to climb into the slow-moving box, press the button for the ground floor, and lean agains the wall for support.  I had to pull myself together, had to hold my chin up at least until I got out of the hospital.  That’s what I was raised to do, and that’s how I was going to see this through — push everything to the side so no one could see I was weak.

    I rubbed my face and took in a long breath.  My fists clenched as they dropped to my sides, a way to control the shaking.  I stood up straight and tossed a stray piece of hair behind my shoulder.  The screen above the floor selection panel blinked a few more times, telling me I only had a few more seconds until I could leave for my — Leo’s — car.  I could do this.  I just had to get out before I completely imploded.

    The doors opened to a mostly clear lobby.  A few people were talking to the woman at the desk while others wheeled patients with IVs attached to their forearms.  I crossed my arms and strode out of the elevator, avoiding eye contact with anyone.  I felt like if I looked at another person I would break down.  I’d been away from people too long, but then again not enough.  Everything today had been too much at once.

    I was hit with fresh air when I stepped through the large sliding doors.  The sky was gray from a small front that’d moved in and a slow wind had built since I’d gone in the night before.  It was ironic after all the things I’d been hit with.

    My feet carried me to the back of the parking lot, where the car was now between two others.  I pulled the key out of my jeans and unlocked it, collapsing into the driver’s side.  It hardly took two seconds for my expression to contort in pain and for tears to spring into my eyes.  I’d made it past everyone, but I wasn’t fooling myself.  I felt torn to shreds as I put my forehead on the steering wheel, closing my eyes in an attempt to hold back the moisture threatening to spill from them.  When I didn’t succeed, I caved and let a sob escape my mouth.  My hand raised to cover it.  I wasn’t willing to hear the first cry I’d had in years.

    Chest tightened from emotion, I made a great effort to haul in a breath.  I had to calm down, had to get out of the parking lot and away from everyone who reminded me of my pain and mistakes; but where would I go?  I couldn’t go back to Markus’s house — there were too many memories there; not Jason’s old house, for obvious reasons.  No money in my pocket left me without the option of a motel.  Maybe I could find an empty lot, somewhere to park the car so I could sleep in the back seat.

    My ringtone blared into the silence, making me jump.  It sounded foreign, gone so long from my possession.  After wiping my eyes I pulled it from my pocket.  An unknown number flashed on the screen, leaving me confused.  No one knew my number beside those I gave it to.  It was unlisted.  My jaw clenched and I inhaled before pressing the “accept” button and holding it to my ear.

    “Hello?”

    “Hey, Honey,” came a voice that made my heart jolt with surprise and anger.  Leah.

    “How the hell did you get this number,” I growled into the receiver.

    “That doesn’t matter right now,” she said smoothly.  “I heard you’re back in Poway.”

    “And you would like to know, why?”  My empty hand squeezed into a fist, nails digging into my palm.

    “I figured since Sam was in the hospital, you’d be back.  Leo confirmed it for me last night when I called him.”  I heard the mock concern in her voice.  “You found out about Emmett, then?”

    “How do you know about Sam and Emmett?”

    “Everyone does.  Your group was the biggest threat around with Jason up in Oakland, whether people knew it or not.  It got around pretty fast that two junkies put bullets in him; and Emmett?  You should’ve seen how much your brother’s popularity blew up when Jason took you from them.  It only makes sense that Emmett — the one Jason shot — had a lot of rumors spread about him too, being connected to Sam.  When he died, people got cocky and started bragging about who would be the next one to take a stab at Markus and Sam.”

    I thought my phone my break in my hold.  “Why are you calling me?”

    Leah paused dramatically.  “I have a proposition.”

    “One that I don’t want to hear.”  I took the phone away from my ear with the intent of ending the call, but her next words stopped me.

    “I know who hurt your brother.”

    It took me a long second to decide whether I should stay on the phone or not.  I wanted so badly to get back at whoever had put Sam in the hospital.  I’d make their lives a living hell.  But at the same time, this was Leah.  I couldn’t trust her, not after everything Jason had said she was capable of — but then again, what good was his word when he’d been hiding things from me?

    “Keep talking,” I snapped.

    “I assume you’re in need of a place to stay.”

    “Who wants to know?”

    “Me,” she replied cooly.  “I have a place just outside of Poway.”

    “What makes you think I want to stay with you?”  My eyes narrowed, though she couldn’t see me.

    “I figured you wouldn’t want to stay with the boy you’ve been cheating on, nor the one you’ve been cheating with, but if you have a better option, then–“

    I stopped listening when I spotted movement in the rear view mirror.  My body froze at the sight of Tyler, jogging and spinning his head frantically.  I sunk in the seat, hoping to avoid his vision as my heart pounded, but I knew as soon as his eyes landed on mine in the mirror that I had to leave right then.  My chest felt like it held a gaping whole as I rammed the keys in the ignition and started the car while Tyler sprinted toward me.

    “Fine!” I shouted into the receiver.  I glanced at the gun in the passenger’s seat.  “But if you’re just screwing with me, this will end badly for you.”

    “Relax,” Leah said, obviously giving me an eye roll.  “A small percentage of people don’t lie just for fun.”

    “It’s unfortunate that you’re not one of those people.”  I threw the car into reverse and turned out of the spot, pushing the car into drive when Tyler was just a few feet away.  Wincing, I hit the accelerator pedal and sped away from him, but not before he put a hand on my window.  I stared at his print, dying a little on the inside when I heard him call my name but didn’t look back.

    “Do you want a place to stay or not?” she said impatiently.

    “Yes.”

    “Good.  I’ll send you the address.  Be here in ten minutes.”

    The line went dead.

    TO BE CONTINUED

 

Well there you go. Reactions???? Holy crap, guys. Anyway, it's been a joy writing this for y'all.  Was so excited for you to read this. THERE WILL BE A SEQUEL. Info either later tonight or tomorrow. Thank you all for reading Xx

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